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Foreign policy experts on Wednesday welcomed the 'new beginning' in Pakistan-US relations with Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Donald Trump's this week maiden meeting in Washington and emphasised the need for moving forward in accordance with expectations from both the sides.

Speaking at a roundtable conference here at the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) on "Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to US: A Review and the Road Ahead," they highlighted the expectations the two countries attached with each other and also cautioned about the challenges ahead.

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Pakistan's former ambassador to the US who also served as UN Secretary General's special representative, described the Prime Minister's visit as a "good beginning" in the relationship of the two countries. Talking about the expectations attached from the trip at home, he pointed out that one should be kept in mind that Pakistan is not the strategic partner of the US. It is India, he said, adding that the only country which is and will remain as Pakistan's strategic partner is China.

He said that a balancing approach needs to be adopted. However, he also referred to the challenges ahead, adding that there could be problems if things do not go as expected by President Trump. Besides dealing with an "impatient America," he further pointed out that the other fear is that there could be some "false flag operation" in Indian occupied Kashmir, which could be blamed on Pakistan, to neutralize the positivity generated by the trip. The former diplomat also called for not attaching too much importance to Trump's disclosure about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him for mediation on Kashmir.

To a question about the US-Iran tension, Qazi warned that there could be distraction in the Middle East if the US and Israel attack Iran, adding it will also have repercussions for the whole region and the peace efforts in Afghanistan could go back to 30 years in such a scenario.

Ambassador Ali Sarwar Naqvi (retd), who is executive director of Centre for International Strategic Studies (CISS), said that the cheerful friendliness seen during the Prime Minister's visit would help bolster Pakistan-US relations. He said that it remains to be seen how the understandings reached during the talks would play out in the days ahead. He pointed out that there are expectations from both the sides - the US wants Pakistan to help it in ending the Afghan conflict and Pakistan in return is desirous of enhancing its exports to the US markets to deal with the country's downing economy. So, this is important for both the countries to remain engaged.

Dr Mujeeb Afzal, professor at Quaid-e-Azam University, while highlighting the positive outcomes of the visit for Pakistan, said that it would reduce Trump's hostility towards Pakistan, adding that Islamabad's contribution to Afghan peace was acknowledged and Modi's dilemma with regards to Kashmir stood exposed. However, he feared that environment of distrust in Washington with respect to Pakistan would continue and delivering the ceasefire in Afghanistan would be difficult for Islamabad. According to him, it was a good event, but there was not much of strategic importance in it.

Yasir Mahmood, a foreign policy analyst, maintained that Pakistan's economic compulsions forced the country's leadership to go overboard. He also pointed out the complications in delivering on US expectations, saying that President Trump is a "desperate person." Referring to President Trump's Kashmir mediation remarks, he said that it would force Modi to prove his anti-Pakistan credentials at home, which could add to Indo-Pak tensions.

Policy analyst Raza Rumi described the trip as a "door opening" in Pakistan-US ties, saying that re-engaging with US expands Pakistan's options with respect to economy and regional security, as America has been a traditional ally. He said it was important to rebuild Pak-US ties because of huge Pakistani Diaspora there, the remittances they send back home, and the fact that the US is one of major export destinations for Pakistani products. Executive Director IPI, Prof Sajjad Bokhari in his remarks said that there is a feeling whatsoever President Trump offered to Prime Minister Imran Khan is subject to progress on Afghanistan. He pointed out that the two sides agreed to a mechanism to monitor the understandings reached during the talks, but there was no resumption of high-level bilateral dialogue, which could have provided a platform for a sustainable dialogue between the two countries.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019

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